Inquiry will direct early-years policy;Letter

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
Two articles - "Playgroups in cash riddle" and "Early-years foundation will 'flop'" (TES, April 2) - paint a misleading picture of government early-years policies, and particularly the role of pre-schools and playgroups.

This Government is committed to good-quality early education and childcare. We have guaranteed an early education place for all four-year-olds and are committed to doubling those for three-year-olds. We have published the first-ever National Childcare Strategy. We are investing more than pound;8 billion in early-years services.

The early-years development and childcare partnerships are working to implement our commitments locally. They have been charged with working with all sectors - maintained, voluntary and private and we have been monitoring their success in this.

I cannot share Professor Kathy Sylva's pessimism about the ability of staff in early-years settings to provide good-quality early education. Clearly they need support. We are investing pound;119 million for training early-years practitioners across all sectors. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is working with the new national training organisations on a qualifications framework for people working with children.

The consultative early-learning goals contain more detailed guidance on teaching and other activities appropriate for all ages. We are actively considering the responses to our consultation on the "Registration, regulation and inspection of early-years education and day care".

We agree some pre-schools and playgroups face difficulties. This worries me as much as it worries the Pre-school Learning Alliance. That is why we have made pound;0.5m available for good-quality groups facing financial problems.

Pre-schools and playgroups have an important role to play in the expansion of early education. I want to know if there are any barriers to pre-schools and playgroups taking up the opportunities that the expansion of places presents. That is why I am establishing an urgent, independent inquiry to report to me in the late summer - in time to inform the next round of guidance to early-years development and childcare partnerships.

The PLA has welcomed the inquiry - the outcome of which I neither know nor have prejudged - and I look forward to their positive contributions to it.

Margaret Hodge Education minister Department for Education and Employment Sanctuary Buildings Great South Street London SW1

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